Politics & Policy

The Corner

On Trump Appealing to Democrats

In response to Meeting Vera Drake

I agree with all of Rich’s points below about the hard time Trump will have peeling off Democrats for some new bipartisan coalition. I will admit, one of my greatest fears of the Trump presidency is that he would come out of blocks trying to do exactly that. He hasn’t — and that’s a good thing, from a conservative perspective. Instead, he made the same mistake that Obama made at the outset of his administration.

I’ve long argued that the fons et origo of Obama’s problems was his refusal to co-opt a chunk of the Republican caucus with the stimulus. People forget that, at the time, Obama’s popularity was through the roof, and there was a legitimate sense of urgency in the country about the financial crisis. I remember political consultants and Hill people telling me how worried they were that Obama would offer something many Republicans would have to vote for. If a third of Republicans supported the Obama stimulus, then the lousy economy that followed would be a bipartisan failure (or maybe a success if it had worked better). But the Obama White House opted to eschew GOP buy-in, and the Republicans learned an important lesson: They could oppose Obama and not pay a political price.

If Trump had reached out to Dems the way Rich suggests and led with a massive FDR–style infrastructure program of the sort Steve Bannon says he wants, most Republicans and a good chunk of the Democrats probably would have gone for it. That would have split both parties and created a Trump coalition.

As it stands, that looks much more difficult. It is in the political interests of the Democrats to oppose Trump on everything, for the reasons Rich suggests.

But there’s another factor that is not Trump’s fault, but Obama’s. Where are these supposed moderate Democrats ripe for the plucking that people keep talking about? Let’s get their pictures on milk cartons ASAP.

The truth is that Obama hollowed out the Democratic party of any significant bloc of moderates. Support for Obamacare killed off a slew of more centrist Democrats, particularly in the Senate. What’s left is a far more ideologically committed urban and blue-state party. That means doing anything that attracts a Democrat will likely repulse at least an equal number of Republicans. As Ramesh said to me this morning, it’s not like it never occurred to John Boehner to find 30 Democrats to make up for losses among the conservative diehards, it’s just that such Democrats weren’t to be found (at least not without costing more Republican defections). The days of the Reagan Democrats, Blue Dog Democrats (and Gypsie Moth Republicans) are largely behind us.

That means if Trump is really determined to get Democratic support, he will have to move much further left to do so. And that will create a real crisis for a lot of Republicans, not just the House Freedom Caucus.

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